New Delhi: Narendra Modi has now taken centre stage in the national politics after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chose the Gujarat Chief Minister to be its poll panel chief, thrusting him on to a bigger role for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The party took the plunge on day-two of its crucial National Executive meet in Goa, ignoring reservations from senior leaders like LK Advani, who stayed away from the conclave.
"I want to give you a significant information. ...I have announced (at the National Executive) that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will be the Chairman of the BJP Election Campaign Committee, keeping in mind the challenge of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and to achieve victory in the polls," party President Rajnath Singh told the media at the conclusion of the deliberations.
But many believe it is under pressure from the Advani camp that the leadership issue has been left for a later stage. Allies like Akali Dal and Shiv Sena have been cautious and have made it clear that it was BJP's decision to name Modi, considered a polarising figure after post-Godhra riots in 2002, poll campaign chief, not the NDA's.
Shortly after his anointment, Modi declared at a public meeting that Goa has been lucky for him as in 2002 he had got the "licence" to run Gujarat. "I am confident that I will complete the task that has been entrusted to me by Rajnathji," he said to a thunderous applause from the party cadre.
In his 45-minute address, he referred to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee but did not once take the name of Advani, who is said to be having reservations over his elevation in the party. But he had earlier tweeted that he had talked to Advani and "got his blessings".
"We are all party workers; we will do whatever duty has been assigned to us," Modi said. He attacked the UPA government aggressively during his acceptance speech and said it has lost the trust of people of the country.
"It's our responsibility to save the country from such an insensitive government," said the 63-year-old. He also proclaimed it is time to rid the country of the UPA and shouted slogans of "Congress bhagao".
He accused Congress of taking people for granted and adopting a "non-serious" approach towards governance. Modi said Congress did not believe in democratic institutions and was in no mood to accept the federal structure of the Constitution.
He claimed that the Congress established a National Advisory Council chaired by Sonia Gandhi to function over and above the Planning Commission. "There was a time when Congress was in power from panchayat to Parliament. But when it began losing power in states, it never allowed other parties to complete their tenure in government by misusing Article 356 (for imposing Central rule). At times it triggered defection in opposition parties and also turned Raj Bhavans (Governor's residence) into Congress Bhavans," Modi claimed.
However, Congress sounded dismissive of Modi's anointment as BJP's campaign committee chairman, and took potshots at the opposition party over the "apparent divide" within its top brass on the issue. "Modi's appeal is limited to Gujarat. We have seen the hollowness of his campaign in Karnataka elections. He is popular only among people, who like communal politics and communal personalities. But this kind of politics goes against the ethos of India. Common people do not appreciate the communal politics of people like Modi," party spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed told reporters.
The announcement to make Modi poll campaign chief, which was received with a huge round of clapping and standing ovation, was made by Rajnath who was flanked by Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, former President M Venkaiah Naidu, General Secretary Ananth Kumar among others. "Whatever has happened has happened on the basis of consensus," Rajnath said without elaborating.
The decision to plump Modi in a crucial role came after two days of deliberations and dilemma in a virtual gamble to galvanise the cadre ignoring the claims of Advani, so far considered tallest party leader after Vajpayee.
Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, in whose state the conclave took place, said the people need a government and a leader who can take decisions, while Jaitley said decision to elevate Modi was reached after taking party's consensus into account.
Throughout the whole of day-one of the meet, there was speculation that the party could defer an announcement on Modi. One version was that Advani wanted Modi as the head of the campaign for the Assembly elections, including in states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, scheduled for later this year.
Party sources said Rajnath resolved the dilemma after it was felt the meeting should not conclude without a "result" as it would lead to demoralisation of the cadre. Hence, the announcement was made, they said.
(With Additional Inputs From PTI)